Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Duolingo Uses Crowdsourcing to Build Free Language Learning Apps

Go to any library or bookstore (if those still exist) or to the pages of Amazon and search for the foreign language learning courses. You'll find tons of material to teach you Spanish, or Spanish speakers English.  A bit fewer courses in French and German, then maybe a smattering of Russian and Italian.  Depending on the demographics of where you live, possibly a Mandarin, Japanese, and Korean course.  But that's about it.  Even Pimsleur and Rosetta Stone have lots of the simplest traveler-oriented basics, but then thin out when it comes to moving beyond asking where to find the Metro and how the weather is today.

Duolingo starts from the common task of learning 3000 of the most essential words in any language, and the grammar rules to make them work.  They are building this model into a library of courses to achieve low-level mastery of dozens of languages, and concentrating on the ones that aren't so well-represented by other approaches.  And each language course is put together by unpaid volunteers who are fluent in the two languages the course is using ("from Dutch to Portuguese", for example).  And then Duolingo makes the information available free to any user.

Hunter Communications Original News Source
CNN

Link to article:
Duolingo "Incubator" Aims to Crowdsource Language Learning

Excerpt: "Duolingo's plan is to appeal to collective intelligence and 'crowdsourcing' to recruit an army of volunteers to develop these courses.

'There is only going to be one course for each language; and for each language, we will choose between two and three moderators through an application system and a selection process. Then these moderators can choose teams of people to help them,' explains Luis von Ahn, the Guatemalan creator of Duolingo and one of the pioneers of crowdsourcing.

According to Duolingo, one person working 40 hours per week would require about four months to develop one of these courses, so bringing together a good team will be necessary for the initiative to succeed, something that von Ahn is not concerned about.

The task of creating a language course seems to only be within the reach of expert linguists, but the method that Duolingo has developed is 'pretty restricted, with a concrete lists of words and the order in which they must be used, with easy phrases,' says von Ahn.

The language incubator guides the user so they only have to follow a few standardized steps to create any course.

The system has a number of consistency algorithms that verify the quality of the courses. Once finished, they start out as beta versions that will improve according to user feedback. If the established learning metrics are not achieved, Duolingo closes the course and invites the moderator to improve it until it is effective.

What's the incentive? It seems like creating a course on Duolingo will be hard work, but the company is clear on the fact that it will not pay any of the collaborators who participate.

'Our objective is to teach the world languages for free, so we also expect others to collaborate for free,' says the creator of Duolingo. At the moment, Duolingo is financed by $18 million of venture capital and with translations that the system generates."

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